Monday, July 17, 2017

Email to the Universe Discussion Group, Week 10

By Gregory Arnott, guest blogger

Ambrose Bierce

Damnation by Definition

Robert Anton Wilson ever the arch-agnostic, was surprisingly consistent in his themes.  Although he notes that parts of Authority and Submission, an unpublished work written in his early-mid thirties, would be incorporated in Prometheus Rising and Illuminatus! the themes he covers can be found in nearly every other essay in this collection and throughout his oeuvre. The particular term “The Damned Thing” is derived by an Ambrose Bierce short-story that itself seems to have been partially inspired by Guy de Maupassant’s 1880s story “The Horla.” Both stories were an influence on Lovecraft who borrowed an array of themes and terms from Bierce’s stories or from other writers, such as Robert Chambers, who borrowed those terms from Bierce in their turn. The possibly trans-dimensional locations “Carcosa” and “Hali” were both derived from Bierce’s work as well as the name “Hastur” who would be morphed from a gentle shepherd deity to one of the more fearsome of the Great Old Ones. Alan Moore’s recent masterwork of Lovecraftian fiction/scholarship Providence highlights the contributions Bierce made to Lovecraft's fevered universe. Bierce and Chambers are both mentioned in the rising action of The Eye in the Pyramid with the former’s disappearance and the latter’s move to trite romance novels being used as evidence of the Illuminati’s nefarious activities over the years.

But this is mostly a political/social essay concerning the interactions between two possible models: the authoritarian and libertarian. Benjamin Tucker, the nineteenth century American anarchist quoted in the essay as saying “[a]gression is simply another name for government,” is mentioned earlier in the same class of thinkers as Lysander Spooner. I think it is typical of RAW, who is a very American author, to draw his philosophical basis for individualism from American writers instead of the more fashionable, or at least better known, Russian anarchists of the age such as Kropotkin or Bakunin. Although he does mention Tolstoy quite often.

                                                               Benjamin Tucker

I think the paragraph on pg. 184 where the young Wilson waxes into the grandiose language of liberty is beautiful:

“To say that liberty exists is to say that classlessness exists, to say that brotherhood and equality exist. Authority, by dividing people into classes, creates dichotomy, disruption, hostility, fear, disunion. Liberty, by placing us all on an equal footing, creates association, amalgamation, union, security. When the relationships between people are based on liberty and non-aggression, they are drawn together. The facts are self-evident and axiomatic. If authoritarianism did not possess the in-built, preprogrammed double-blind structure of a Game Without End we would long ago have rejected it and embraced libertarianism.”

The following two paragraphs explain much of the political thinking in the nation today as well as they did when the piece was originally written. Perhaps the reasons RAW toyed with the same ideas so often is that it takes humanity as a whole, regardless of information doubling or technology, a long time to move on from certain paradigms. No matter how idiotic or suicidal those ideas may be.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the essay for me was RAW’s correct prediction about the fate of television censorship made in the last line of the essay: “When a more efficient medium [Internet?] arrives, the taboos on television will decrease.” Many critics agree we are living in a Golden Age of scripted television and I am tempted to agree. It seems by moving television primarily onto the Internet, and with all the noise it seems most efforts to censor the Interwebs seemed doomed to failure in the West, the ideas of propriety have been cast away and shows have been allowed to experiment more often. I’d honestly rather watch one of the new seasons of Veep or It’s Always Sunny for their cleverness and character development rather than whatever schlock war film by Eastwood or Gibson or whatever technicolor CGI seizure lowest common denominator trash that dominate the movie box office today. What a run on.

The short essays between “Views of Monterey Bay #18 and #19” are devoted to RAW’s delight in the emerging techno-culture and vitriol against the escalating drug wars of the nineties.  Regrettably, RAW’s prediction that the acidheads would take over the business world seems to have been inaccurate.


Eric Wagner said...

Bob Wilson loved Clint Eastwood's films.

Acidheads like Steve Jobs took over part of the business world.

I think we live in a golden age of political humor, alas. Trump's presidency has nurtured the comedy of Trevor Noah, Bill Maher, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, etc.

James Joyce also valued Benjamin Tucker's thought.

I love "Spectre de la rose" -

Rarebit Fiend said...

Wilson loved film way more than I do in general. After sending this in I was reading an interview with RAW where he told the interviewer that they would be better served asking what directors influenced him over authors. I liked the Man With No Name Trilogy when I was younger but I vastly prefer Paul Newman in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean than the outlaw Josey Wales. I wasn't a fan of what I could stomach of American Sniper and that was what I was thinking of in particular.

While I realize there is a psychedelic influence in the tech world I feel it is hard for someone outside of Silicon Valley to really appreciate. As far as I can tell the second-circuit types are still firmly in control of the reigns in most areas.

I like particularly enjoy the increasingly absurdist and self-aware comedy that is being pushed out by places like Adult Swim (Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington's On Cinema and related shows are hilarious as are Brett Gelman's "Dinner" specials.) While I used to watch Colbert on Comedy Central I was never a devotee of the political comedians and talk shows but I've glanced at a few think pieces about the recent changes in our political world and how they have affected comedy. I think it is telling that South Park is most likely over after next season. It says a lot about our discourse and where we've come since its heydey.

RasaPeloria said...

I was just going to say, Steve Jobs, and truth be told, a significant portion of Silicon Valley has felt the direct or indirect influence of mind-altering substances.

I really wonder what Bob would be doing online these days if he were here. He loved writing and answering emails. Mosbunall of his responses to emails he received were short – many as short as 140 characters. Although I think he'd enjoy the possibility for longer responses on FB and blogs.

I think it's useful to paste in some of the "following paragraphs" (thanks Gregory!)

The usual pacifist complaint about war, that young men are led to death by old men who sit at home manning bureaucrats’ desks and taking no risks themselves, misses the point entirely. Demands that the old should be drafted to fight their own wars, or that the leaders of the warring nations should be sent to the front lines on the first day of battle, etc., are aimed at an assumed “sense of justice” that simply does not exist.

To the typical submissive citizen of authoritarian society, it is normal, obvious and “natural” that he should obey older and more dominant males, even at the risk of his life, even against his own kindred, and even in causes that are unjust or flagrantly absurd.

The mechanism by which authority and submission are implanted in the human mind is coding of perception. That which fits into the code is accepted; all else is Damned to being ignored, brushed aside, unnoticed, and — if these fail — it is Damned to being forgotten. A worse form of Damnation is reserved for those things which cannot be ignored. These are daubed with the brain’s projected prejudices until, encrusted beyond recognition, they are capable of being fitted into the system, classified, card-indexed, buried. This is what happens to every Damned Thing which is too prickly and sticky to be excommunicated entirely. As Josiah Warren remarked, “It is dangerous to understand new things too quickly.” Almost always, we have not understood them. We have murdered them and mummified their corpses.

– Robert Anton Wilson, Email to the Universe, "Damnation by Definition"

Branka Tesla said...

RAW made me question academia more than anyone else before him, since academia as an institution tends to be authoritarian guided by it's rules and policies. As a free-floating thinker and with his ability to travel across multiple disciplines ad infinitum, Wilson would just not fit in. His freedom seemed bigger than any institution. I think Wilson would be bored in any academic setting for a prolonged period of time and he would probably confuse many of his professors. He would probably be "a profound insult to (the) card-index system of classifications". (p.179) And Wilson continues to create problems for bookstores and libraries, as his wide genre makes him difficult to categorize.

Wilson's fight, endurance and passion to remain free and fluid, touches me profoundly each time:

"Every ideology is a mental murder, a reduction of dynamic living processes to static classifications, and every classification is a Damnation, just as every inclusion is an exclusion. In a busy, buzzing universe where no two snow flakes are identical, and no two trees are identical, and no two people are identical --- and, indeed, the smallest sub-atomic particle, we are assured, is not even identical with itself from one microsecond to the next --- every card-index system is a delusion." (p.180)

"As Oscar Wilde truly said: "Disobedience was man's Original Virtue." " (p.182)

Oz Fritz said...

p.179 "When five publisher's in a row rejected it, I gave up attempting books for six full years and only wrote shorter pieces."

This recalls the 5 = 6 Golden Dawn formula. I sometimes see it as the quantum jump from C5 to C6 in Leary's model. More on this formula can be found in my blog on David Bowie who incorporated this symbolism on his last album cover.

chas said...

The Dog Days seem to be having an effect upon the comment section, so I'm going to push through my inertia and post a little something here.

Damnation by Definition is a fun read, and its points are well taken, yet it is still a polemic and it creates a false dichotomy. There is no absolute authority, and there is no absolute freedom, and balance only exists in the absence of absolutism. The yon/yang symbol is a helpful glyph for the visually oriented.

Bob stated on many occasions that he was a fan of social liberalism – – single-payer healthcare, publicly funded scientific exploration, public libraries, etc. I suspect that he takes such a strong line toward unbridled liberty because we live in such an authoritarian society. If the authority/liberty debate were really this simple, Illuminatus! would have been a much shorter book.

I love the final sentence McDonald's balancer of CyberRevolution Montage.

Rarebit Fiend said...

@Rasa Thank you! I didn't want to violate copyright by posting too much. I appreciate you putting that up here.

@Branka Tesla as someone who is currently inside of academia I agree. I have been able to convince most of my professors to let me write about my interests but it always takes a bit of convincing.

@Oz Fritz Thanks for the read! Space Oddity, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust...up to Station to Station were all huge influences during my teenage years. I would say the death of RAW worked out to be an artistic triumph as well as the death of William Blake who died whilst singing in anticipation for his departure.

@Chas Right you are! I don't really hold back on my insults towards traditionalism, tribalism, nationalism, authoritarianism et al because they are so prevalent in our society. Also it annoys me how many people really think that we live in a "free society." I would define myself as someone who believes in social liberalism as well. My socialist tendencies are a big part of why I left the Libertarian Party.

Rarebit Fiend said...

I used convince and convincing in the same sentence. I apologize for the sloppy response.

Oz Fritz said...

Rarebit Fiend, thanks for checking the Bowie blog. Also, nice sleuthing out the Lovecraft/ Damned Thing reference. The Lovecraft becomes even more obvious in "The Horror on Howth Hill" piece up next in the que.

p. 179: The two arguing botanists recalls Deleuze and Guattari's theory of the rhizome (Introduction to "A Thousand Plateaus") which employs the duality of a rhizome and a tree (arborescent) to model different kinds of morphogenesis and growth.

p.179: "...'common senses' that dreary bog of Stone Age prejudice and muddy inertia." Deleuze also strongly criticizes and rejects the notion of "common sense."

p.180: "Every ideology is a mental murder, a reduction of dynamic living processes to static classifications, and every classification is a Damnation..." Deleuze also soundly attacks the habitual classification of things into static identities. He takes up and expands upon Nietzsche's project to "overturn Platoism" with the effect undermining any ideology as a supreme authority. This line of thought also speaks to Deleuze's criticism of Kant's categorical imperatives.

p.181: "This Damns the subject in another way." More strong resonance with Deleuze. His rejection of static identity and signified transcendentals, such as the ego, completely redefines subjectivity. At one point, he declares that there is no subject.

p.181: second paragraph - the coupling of the psychoanalyst and the Marxist (Karl, not Groucho) resonates with the main theme in Deleuze and Guattari's "Anti Oedipus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia Volume I which presents a criticism and reimagining of Freudian psychoanalysis and Marxist political philosophy. Their underlying premise is that individual psychological functioning plays a significant part in social and economic functioning. They share this in common with Wilhelm Reich.

Oz Fritz said...

My apologies for the typos, as well. First paragraph should read, "The Lovecraft associations become even more obvious..."

Third paragraph should start with 'common sense,' not 'common senses.'

Next paragraph should say, "with the effect of undermining.."

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Rarebit Fiend Well, I probably lack "socialist tendencies" but I favor universal health coverage and helping the poor via the welfare state. But I stuck with supporting Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party in the past election. My pet issues are peace and civil liberties, so I couldn't support Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. (Although I did do a vote swap in a futile effort to keep Trump from carrying Ohio.)

Rarebit Fiend said...

@Tom I would consider those socialist tendencies and both are first and foremost in my mind when I call myself a socialist. I also believe publicly funded science exploration and a complete restructuring of our energy/environmental bureau to something compliant with the *increased comfort* and survival of the species.

I also voted Johnson but the longer the Trump years (I know its only been months but what months) drag on I regret my protest vote more everyday. Not that a dash of blue would have made a difference in the sea of blood that was WV's voting demographic that day.

Basically I feel very sympathetic to the government of Eve Hubbard in Wilson's "The Trick Top Hat." It is the closest thing he ever wrote to a Utopian novel and it does remind me of similar tear-jerkers such as Huxley's Island. Most of the governments I admire come from Utopian fiction and philosophical tracts. The ideas about anarchism/universal democracy put forth by Alan Moore are very appealing to me. I also filled my head with the political theories of Michael Moorcock, William Blake, Rousseau, Emerson, Thoreau, and Godwin at a relatively young age so I have a heavy idealist anarchist bent. I still find myself quoting The Social Contract in political debates.

Branka Tesla said...

Chas, I agree with you: "There is no absolute authority, and there is no absolute freedom," And Wilson acknowledges it and addresses it on p.180 : "Certain Damnations are socially and intellectually necessary, of course."

Just like there is no absolute truth, and as Nietzsche says: "We have had the whole pathos of mankind against us - it's conception of what truth ought to be; every 'thou shalt' has hitherto been directed against us..." (The Anti-Christ, #13)

And, Rarebit Fiend, when I wrote about akademia, I am not against akademia. I think one can get very solid education and knowledge within akademia. I just think that it is important to step out of a given frame and think outside of the box. For example: I meet people who graduated from UC Berkeley in English language and English literature and who have never heard of E-Prime (English Prime) or Wilson - who actually lived in Berkeley and was socially present and active. I think Wilson was giving some lectures in Berkeley and attended some intellectual gatherings/salons. And some of these students are taking notes from me. From me? And English is my second language (as many of you can probably detect from my writing).

Think of all your teachers in elementary school, high school and university. How many of them were open and flexible to encourage and accept thinking of their students outside of a given subject and outside of the box?

Rarebit Fiend said...

@Branka Tesla I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to infer that I was either wholly against academia or that I had taken offense on its behalf. I was agreeing with your initial comment. Communication hard/me dum.

@Oz Fritz I'll need to read some of your posts on Deleuze as I have no frame of reference for the man or his thoughts.

I've written out a couple drafts of my treatment for "Howth Hill" next week and it is the sole article we'll be covering. I'm excited and found a lot to discuss in that story!

Branka Tesla said...

Rarebit Fiend, No need for apology! You did not misunderstand me at all. After re-reading my first comment regarding academia I thought I came across as someone who is against academia, so I wrote an addendum to my first comment in order to clarify my approach about academia.

Oz Fritz said...

It's been awhile since I read it, but it seems that RAW parodies the pedantic aspect of Academia with the footnotes in The Widow's Son focused around the mysterious and engimatic De Selby. After seeing references to five major themes in Deleuze within 2 pages including a reference to the primary theme in his first book with Guattari, I'm beginning to suspect that RAW had knowledge of Deleuze and maybe based De Selby on him. Though considered a radical and on the fringe in that world, Deleuze operated right in the heart of Academia as a philosophy professor at the University of Paris. The academic melodrama satirized in RAW's footnotes seems like a Spinal Tap version of the milieu around Deleuze and his work.

Common areas of strong influence on RAW and Deleuze include: Hume, Nietzsche, Joyce, Burroughs, Casteneda. Deleuze was very influenced by Artaud and RAW writes about him in Cosmic Trigger I

Rarebit Fiend said...

@Oz Fritz de Selby was the creation of the Irish novelist Flann O'Brien (Biran O'Nolan) who appears in his novels "The Third Policeman" and "The Dalkey Archive." The extensive footnotes are also lifted from those novels (however they are certainly mocking academia). I actually have a bit about de Selby in the upcoming post.

Deleuze sounds fascinating. I'll have to check him out. I really like Artaud and all the other influences so he definitely will be on my reading list. Any good place to start?

Oz Fritz said...

Thanks for the clarification, Rarebit Fiend. I should have known that having read The Third Policeman relatively recently.

I started with A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari and think that's as good a place as any. It took a little while to crack their syntax and terminology. I hadn't read much philosophy for a long time previous to that.

This will also give you a little taste: